A 72-year-old is riding the length of New Zealand on a rusty 1940s bike in memory of his wife, who died of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2011.

John Smithies, who is on the third day of his journey, hopes to educate Kiwis about lymphoma and raise $50,000 for Leukaemia & Blood Cancer New Zealand.

Yesterday he started in Kaitaia and cycled 55km but he aims to cover 100km each day.

Mr Smithies and his wife, Alison, were devastated when she was diagnosed with the blood cancer in 2001. But they continued their active lifestyle: tramping, sailing, gardening and building a house at Lake Ohau in the Mackenzie Basin.


Mr Smithies, who had been with his wife for 48 years, found his "old-fashioned" bike abandoned by a hedge in a Christchurch demolition site after the 2011 earthquake.

The bike is the same age as Mr Smithies and he describes seeing it as his "Eureka" moment.

"I had been wanting to do something a bit different to raise money. And then I saw the bike and it was perfect."

The decision to ride the length of New Zealand shocked his four children and six grandchildren.

"They said, 'Have you seen State Highway 1, Dad? You can't cycle that!' But they're really supportive now, I've worn them down."

He said Leukemia & Blood Cancer New Zealand supported Alison not just through treatments and consultation but by providing empathy.

"Alison and I used to talk about how we wanted to give something back to the fantastic people who supported us through this all."

Mr Smithies says he is not doing anything extraordinary as he loves the outdoors and wants to spread the word to as many people as possible.

"I think she is riding on my shoulder along with me," he said.

"It's a bit of unfinished business."

He will be posting updates to his supporters through the Leukaemia & Blood Cancer Facebook page. Donate online here.